In Florida, the quaint art-house theaters and historic movie venues are slowly dying. They’ve been withering away for years, trying to survive the blows delivered by big chain cinemas that offer reclining leather seats, a meal and wine to enthusiastic patrons who relish the thought of enjoying the latest box office success accompanied by a glass of Pinot Grigio and a plate of cheese nachos. Charlie Birnbaum, theater manager of the Stonzek Theater, a small independent film venue in downtown Lake Worth, stated that he failed to understand why people would pay up to thirty dollars to enjoy a film in a simulated La-Z-Boy recliner instead of just watching it at home. “I don’t get it”, Birnbaum said. “To go a movie and see people laying back on chair drinking wine like you’re in a restaurant; it kind of puts off the whole movie experience for me”.
That this seemingly attractive quality in the modern movie-going experience is a death sentence to smaller film venues like the Stonzek, is an all too realistic threat. This past June, Mo’s Art Theater located in Lake Park, Florida closed it’s doors for good, announcing the sad fact to its loyal patrons through the theater’s website and their Facebook page, with a message that seemed as much a farewell as an invocation: “The Mos’Art Theatre is closed. We would like to thank all of you for your years of loyalty and support. I hope you will always look back on the times at the theater and smile.” The Palm Beach Post also mentioned in passing the permanent closing of the theater, through the blog of feature writer Staci Sturrock, who stated: “I sure will miss the Mos’ Art, but I do smile when I think of the cinematic experiences I enjoyed there”. Specialty film magazine Film Comment posted an article on Twitter titled “Art House Film Venues”, naming Mo’s Art Theater along with the Stonzek in a detailed list of indie and art film venues that exist in each state.
Mo’s certainly isn’t the only art house venue to disappear from the theater grid, if anything it’s the most recent loss. The Carefree Theater, located in West Palm Beach had to shut down in 2005 due to a combination of poor revenues and the structural damage caused by Hurricane Wilma in the same year. The Carefree, among other reasons, could not compete with the rising popularity of 3D and multiple screen rooms, making any plans to rebuild it virtually impossible. A photograph uploaded to Instagram, shows the shell of the Carefree Theater with the caption: #abandoned #carefreetheater. The Palm Beach Post ran an article in August about the possibility of the land where the Carefree stands being sold by its current owner, Lori Stoll for the purpose of a redevelopment plan in the area.
The Carefree and Mo’s Art Theater are just two examples of the many art film venues that have faded into oblivion from the landscape of the Sunshine State. The slow disappearance of these theaters is a sad way of saying goodbye an era. While drinks and dinner may seem a fantastic way for some to enjoy their films, there are many others who are quite content with nothing more than a small bag of popcorn and maybe a box of candy to accompany the unrestricted storytelling of an indie film in the comforts of a small theater with no reclining chairs.